This month’s San Francisco magazine is devoted to Chinatown. I was interviewed for an article “Long Live the Empress” about the grand Empress of China and my memories of it. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s I attended many banquets to celebrate weddings and anniversaries, some had as many as 500 guests. I remember my father marveling that hard-working Chinese were willing to pay $20,000 or more to give their children the most luxurious wedding celebration. That was big money in those days. Because Baba knew the owner Kee Joon, he sometimes stepped into the frenzied kitchen during these banquets and would explain to me the expertise required to produce a decadent eight or nine course meal that included Peking duck, winter melon soup served in the whole melon with the outside carved, steamed whole rock cod, stir-fried lobster with lo mein and more… He would say, “Not every chef can do this. And, these men work 7 days a week and put in 16 hour days.”
It’s unbelievably sad that the Empress is gone. In the 1960s my parents attended a party at the restaurant for the San Francisco Film Festival. There are photographs somewhere in the family album of my mom with James Mason and Peter Ustinov. But the best one is of my mom wearing a skin tight Chinese cheung sam standing next to Jayne Mansfield, who has a risqué skin tight evening gown with a plunging neckline that partially reveals her breast and a slit that starts at her hip and exposes her butt and leg. The photo captures my mom’s wide-eyed expression, staring in amazement at the dress that barely covers Mansfield’s body. Ahh, Empress memories… The last time I was there was to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Of course, it was a banquet for family friends.